There are over 200,000 independent authors on the Kindle store. Most of them writing the same stuff you write: romances, thrillers, sci-fi, self-help, memoirs. That’s a lot of competition for a book-buying audience that, even in the educated West, rarely exceeds 10% of the population. (if you exclude celebrity cookbooks at Christmas.)
Add to that the market space. The total ebook fiction market isn’t huge (about £1bn in the USA + UK) and over 40% of that is romance. If, like me, you’re limited to English-native and can’t write a sex scene for toffee – even if it includes toffee – you’ve got to find other routes to readership. Here’s how I’m doing it…
First, the right team of friends lets you ignore 95% of authors straight off the bat. Authoring has a long, long tail: the average self-published book sells fewer than 50 copies. (Even for traditionally published work, the first print run rarely exceeds 500.) In SP, the quality of cover designs, let alone the quality of writing, hovers above such a low base that 190,000 of those 200,000 authors are effectively out of the game: you don’t need to worry about them except as background noise.
The 10,000 authors left over are your competition. Discounting the thousand or so big names, your goal should really be to get into the top 2-3,000 authors on Kindle – i.e. those who make a living at it. That’s about a third of the “real authors”. And that cuts the problem down to size. Not everyone can hit the top 1% of anything. But with focus and hard work, anyone can get into the top third.
What’s more, only a subset of those authors compete with you – those in your niche. For thrillers, that’s about 750 people I need to look at. If you’re a sci-fi author it’s even lower. So read their work (the lowest to learn the bar; the highest to see what wins) and learn how they execute, but especially how they promote themselves.
All it takes is one good idea in the right place to make a splash. Tom Clancy’s initial audience was Washington civil servants. John Grisham’s was young lawyers. Chris Ryan? Squaddies. Getting just 1,000 people in your target demographic to read your book can create the buzz it needs to gain broader appeal. I’ve got a feeling four good posters near the right Tube exits might be enough to get a few management consultants (my core target audience) reading Gabe Rayner.
So even in a huge universe of authors, my competitive landscape is just a few hundred players. That’s manageable. And my audience – there aren’t many business consultant action heroes – defines itself: the Big Few consulting firms, all of which have bases in my hometown. Suddenly, a Big Problem becomes much smaller.